After frantic, several match filled Premier League weeks, teams will now have a couple of weeks break from the league and will be competing in the Emirates FA Cup 2016/17 over the coming weekend. Manchester United will host Reading for their FA Cup tie and the Red Devil fans will have a few more reasons to look forward to this game. The game will mark the return of the fierce and crowd favorite Jaap Stam, although in the opposition dugout. Jose Mourinho and his team will, however, want to make sure that they are the ones smiling at the end of the game.
This game comes at a good time for the United team who has been playing their hearts out for the past month. Mourinho’s pupil have played a total of nine games in the past month, seven of which were league games. With almost each game being a do or die for the team, considering their distance from the top four, the manager did not have the liberty of rotating the squad a lot. However, he might want to try and do so against Reading, especially given their next fixture and things at stake there.
Starting XI Prediction (4-1-4-1):
Goalkeeper – Sergio Romero
David De Gea has been unsurprisingly United’s first choice and most used keeper. But Romero is too good a keeper to be kept waiting in the wings when De Gea can actually do good with some rest. The Argentinian has proven on several occasions in the few chances that he has had previously in the season, that sitting on the bench has not affected his reflexes or skills in any way. Mourinho will expect the same from him in the coming game.
Back Four – Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young
Antonio Valencia has been terrific for United this season and has been another standout performer for Mourinho. But he has also been a regular feature in all of the last few games. The manager might want to keep him fresh for Liverpool and give a chance to Fosu-Mensah, who has not had a lot of chances since coming in to the first team. Matteo Darmian had a forgetful game against West Ham which led Mourinho to replace him at half time. With Shaw’s fitness still being a question mark, Young, who has been out of the starting XI for ages in spite of his excellent game against Liverpool, the last time he started, might get a look in for the game.
Defensive Midfielder – Daley Blind
This is one of those things that you not expect but hope that Mourinho will try out. With Carrick being such an integral part of the balance of this team, his absence suddenly creates a lot of vacuum and that needs to be addressed sooner or later. Blind might be a good option to try out in this role, considering this is where he was deployed by Louis Van Gaal in his debut season. Blind has efficiently demonstrated his build-up play as well as the intelligence to read the game in order to anticipate, exactly what Carrick does. If things do work out, dependence on Carrick can be reduced gradually making the eventual transition easier. Although this is one of those things that is a little difficult to actually happen and we will mostly end up seeing Marouane Fellaini being played
Attacking Midfield – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial
Mkhitaryan has been in tremendous form since his comeback from the injury and so-called “exodus”. He will want to get some minutes, if not all, to keep his confidence up there when Liverpool come to town next week. He did not play the whole 90 minutes and also has a week before the Liverpool game so Mourinho might be tempted to give him some minutes in this game. Mata, who was exceptional in the last two off-bench appearances, will most probably start in the game. Rooney, who has been out due to an injury might make his comeback and will look to get “those” two goals. As expected, the team did not miss Rooney much when he has been out so he will want to make a decent return if he still wishes to play a significant role in this United team. The left-wing, which was occupied by Marcus Rashford, who made the whole difference in the last game, might see Martial come back in the side. The Frenchman was on fire against Middlesbrough and started the late comeback. He will be looking to show similar fire and hunger to force Mourinho to play him more often.
Striker – Marcus Rashford
The big Swede has been United’s mainstay up front and has been delivering all guns blazing. However, some rest would do him good, although he might not need it. Rashford, who caused all sorts of trouble with his skills and pace in the last game, seems to have picked up his form, which seems to have deserted him in few of his earlier appearances. It was a case of being burned out rather than losing form and some time on the bench have certainly helped.
United would want to proceed to the next round and would want to do it without much fuss so that they can rest their key players for the important clash against Liverpool at home. With Liverpool just five points ahead, United now have a gold opportunity to bring that gap down. United was once nine points off the fourth spot and now are just five points off second, and ten points off the league toppers Chelsea. With so much at stake, the Liverpool clash will be a crucial fixture for the Red Devils and Mourinho will want to get to it without any casualties.